Some number of your major gift donors are what I would term “durable.” They are the ones who continue to give (often generously) regardless of their own personal and financial circumstances; they are the ones who are deeply committed to your mission; they are the ones who show up when you need it most; and they are the ones who are your institution’s most ardent champions. Many durable donors report a special joy in giving and are moved emotionally when they are asked to describe how important your mission is to them. It is not uncommon to hear durable donors say that they are “honored” to give.
Oddly enough, a question in our major gift work that should be one of our most pressing is one we rarely pose:
“What can we do to increase the durability of more donors?”
Having interviewed major gift donors throughout North America, I would suggest the following 3-step approach to increase the durability of more major gift donors and prospects:
Step 1: Ask them for help – seek out your best prospects for their expertise or influence and ask them to assist you in some way. This isn’t a formal request to serve on a Board or other group – a least not yet. Instead, think of small but meaningful tasks they can help you complete. Perhaps you need help being introduced to a potential donor that they know. Or, perhaps, you need a location for an event and their home would be perfect. Or, perhaps, you have an institutional issue about which their counsel could help. Whatever it is, ask for their help or advice.
Step 2: Create pathways for their engagement – once you have asked for and received their help, find additional, perhaps more formal, ways to enhance their engagement. Invite them to lead a project committee, or serve on an Advisory Council. Recruit them to provide volunteer leadership to a fundraising effort. Introduce them to faculty members, deans, athletics coaches, the chancellor or president, or other key individuals to expand and deepen their personal relationships at your institution.
Step 3: Publicly lift them up as key to your progress – in whatever ways they have provided formal or informal assistance to your institution, recognize them. Have an institutional leader acknowledge them by name at a ribbon cutting. Direct a reporter from a newspaper to ask them a question about their leadership with an important institutional project. Include their name in your magazine or website stories about your institutional progress. In these ways (and others, of course), you help to create a perception of ownership and accountability in their mind and in the minds of others.
Donors become more durable as they adopt a stronger and more emotional sense of ownership in your institution’s progress and success. Seeking their engagement in a series of more important and meaningful activities is a wise strategy to encourage their ownership and increase their durability.